Preventing the U.S. Military from Losing its Technological Edge

The Department of Defense (DoD) needs to enhance its procurement processes to help spur innovation and keep the U.S. military from losing its technological edge.

This is the vision of the next installment of the Pentagon’s “Better Buying Power” procurement guidelines, otherwise known as BBP 3.0.  Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall shared this strategy at the recent Defense Acquisition Modernization Symposium 2014, hosted by AFCEA International.

While the first two versions of BBP focused on how to make the military acquisition process more efficient and minimize wasteful spending, BBP 3.0 will be about creating incentives to foster productivity and innovation.

To bring this to life, Undersecretary Kendall believes that program managers and contracting officials need to apply “critical thinking” when it comes to making decisions about what technologies the DoD should acquire.

“Our technological superiority is very much at risk,” Kendall said, in this National Defense article.  “There are people who are designing systems intentionally to defeat us, in a very thoughtful and strategic way.  We’ve been complacent. We’d better wake up and start paying attention.  This keeps me up at night far more than anything else.”

This new vision comes on the heels of a Defense Business Board report, which is titled “Innovation – Attracting and Retaining the Best of the Private Sector.”  Issued last month, the report pointed to common complaints about the DoD’s procurement culture that lead to barriers to innovation.  The report cited onerous regulations, and a risk-averse culture as some of the reasons why technology companies are not going after Pentagon contracts.

In addition, the report found that top Pentagon contractors benefit from the current highly regulated system because it keeps smaller commercial competitors out, which leads to the DoD paying higher prices than it might otherwise.

This all points to the DoD “inadvertently erecting barriers against innovation.”

To counter this, Undersecretary Kendall’s vision for BBP 3.0 will include more encouragement for rapid prototyping and other forms of innovative acquisition to help the United States military maintain its technological edge.

In an updated Breaking Defense story, a Congressional staffer discussed how BBP 3.0 is destined for success because it is not all about “rules, regulations and organizational charts.”  The staffer also discussed how this is more of a continuous improvement effort, which is focused on improving the culture and decision-making in the acquisition workforce.

In addition, last year, executives from commercial satellite firms provided seven practical steps that would allow the DoD to save money, while ensuring reliable access to commercial SATCOM services.  This report was in response to a request by the DoD, which provided feedback and insights that ultimately made its way into the Defense Business Board report.

Taking a page from the commercial sector by focusing on cultural changes, BBP 3.0 is an improvement that will certainly help enhance the acquisition process, and ultimately help our nation keeps its technological edge.

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